When you hear the opening sounds of Goldfinger's "Superman", what's the first thing to come to your mind? Is it an image of the band? The music video? Of course not. It's an image of you, in 1999, playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on your Playstation, being blown away by the game's combination of awesome music and great gameplay, grinding your way around that warehouse. You'll think of restarting the level several times until you get the right song on to pull a sick run for the judges and get your well-deserved gold medal. Or fondly remember trying to make your end-of-round combo last as long as you could, trying to last until the end of "Jerry was a Racecar Driver" doing lip tricks and grinds, not for score, but for Primus. Of course, you could just go an listen to the CD if you had it, but even if you did, there's something fulfilling about being able to listen to more and more of the song every time you did better and better.
Tony Hawk one one of the games that made you realize just how much of a difference music could make in a game. Of course, the best example would probably be Sega's Crazy Taxi. Definately a fun game in it's own right, but it wouldn't be remembered half as fondly as it is without it's 4- song rotation of Offspring and Bad Religion. Even the first time you play, and you don't know what you're getting into, that opening "YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH" of "All I Want" is the perfect thing to get you loosened up and pump you up to cause some chaos around San Francisco. Long after the game should have gotten boring, that soundtrack kept many coming back for more, not just to hear the music, but to have it blaring at them as they make some crazy money.
The one game that made me realize just how much music can affect my desire to play was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Back when this came out, I was totally hooked by these games. Just going around, free range bringing the ruckus around this seemingly huge virtual city. But, that got old after a while. Even doing missions, continuing the story didn't keep my attention through the game. Vice City stands as the only GTA game (and the only single player sandbox game) I've played to completion. It wasn't because of sniping Hatians or selling drugs out of an ice cream truck. What did it was the simple pleasure of driving up and down the length of the city blasting V-Rock or Flash FM, listening to this awesome compilation of 80's music while in this immersive 80's world.
By no means was this an invention of the age of licensed music. Any band that does covers of classic game tunes is proof enough of that. However, for me personally, these three games are the ones that best exemplify how a good soundtrack can make a difference between playing it until getting bored and playing it through to the end. Any time I think of these games, I don't just remember playing it, I remember the music playing during. Microsoft had a genius idea when they built custom soundtracks into their system, instead of being stuck with a small pool of songs, or a bunch of music you don't like, you could play some Need for Speed to every rocking song you'd like. However, there's nothing like being able to just pop in a game, and rock out with it's soundtrack.